by Claudia Willetts
Her Majesty Queen Alexandra, consort of King Peter of Yugoslavia, wrote a personal account of Prince Philip’s life, which she shared as his first cousin once removed, though she was the same age. In Prince Philip: A Family Portrait, Her Majesty tells us “surely no man in the modern world has so thoroughly fulfilled every potential gift and trait of his personality.” Her Majesty passes on his teacher Kurt Hahn’s astute assessment of him as often naughty but never nasty, having the greatest sense of service of all the boys in the school, and noting his special ease and forthrightness in dealing with all kinds of people. Hahn also predicted that “Prince Philip is a born leader, but will need the exacting demands of a great service to do justice to himself.” Later she points out that when he was appointed naval officer and was travelling around the world as a youthful bachelor, he crossed paths with many attractive women, but it was Lilibet (Princess Elizabeth) to whom he patiently wrote letters, and she was the shy, secluded woman who captured his heart.
Of his public life following his marriage to the Queen, Denis Judd supposes in Prince Philip: A Biography, that at first sight it might seem amazingly varied and exciting, especially the enormous amount of travelling the Prince has included, with programmes as exhausting and daunting as an American presidential candidate. However, his life must also have been repetitive and potentially dulling of the senses, despite the endless variety of human contact and venues. Apart from his obligation to undertake official visits with the Queen or alone, he has been an indefatigable patron of a large number of organisations which he promotes by his extrovert nature and capacity to state opinions clearly. His compulsive and sometimes embarrassing honesty is reassuring, according to Mr Judd, because this trait makes it easier for his wife’s subjects to identify with him.
Douglas Liversidge in Prince Philip: First Gentleman of the Realm, says that from a nebulous situation as consort of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip has emerged a significant personality on the world scene. What he has to say might be unpredictable and sometimes unpalatable, but he has retained the common touch without losing dignity.
Marguerite Peacocke in HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, reminds the reader that when he becomes honorary officer of any organisation, he does not just lend his name to it. He talks over its policy with its executive, studies its progress reports, visits its centres of operation, attends special events, and gives up many evenings to help raise funds to extend its work. Once, when told the maxim, “The pleasure of princes is unto others a law”, he readily amended the thought to “The pleasure of others is the law for princes.”
As the Queen’s consort, he has played his part in one of the most public marriages according to The Duke: A Portrait of Prince Philip, by Tim Heald. He has been at the Queen’s side in a subordinate role, fulfilling his oath of fealty given at her coronation, by being her first champion and defender. Each has had to reconcile a dominant personality with a supportive function, in their public and domestic roles and relationships.
Judith Campbell in Royal Partners: The Queen’s Thirty-Five Years of Marriage, says that their happiness together depends on their working partnership, and they both have a great respect for each other, and for each other’s views, though they may differ. Kenneth Harris in The Queen, reminds us that the Prince must not have been the easiest person to live with, as he is as short-tempered, brusque and self-willed with the Queen as with everyone else, but he has loved her, and supported her work at all times.